Fidel Castro returns to Cuban spotlight

20:02, August 18, 2010      

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Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro attends the launch of his autobiography "The Strategic Victory" in Havana August 2, 2010. (Xinhua/Reuters File Photo)

Fidel Castro, who led the Cuban Revolution and reshaped the country into the first communist state in the Western Hemisphere, has recently returned to the Cuban limelight with a number of high-profile public appearances.

The former Cuban leader, who turned 84 on Friday, claimed he was still a revolutionary "full of energy."

"I have not changed," Castro wrote in an article published by local media Friday. "I will be faithful to the principles and ethics that I have practiced since I became a revolutionary."

The cigar-smoking revolutionary, who led Cuba for 48 years after the 1959 revolution, handed over power to his brother, Raul, four years ago due to emergency intestinal surgery.

However, after a long period of absence, Castro returned to public life on July 7, since when he has popped up at numerous public events, culminating on Aug. 6 when he appeared in his trademark olive green military shirt to give a speech on the Iranian nuclear issue before Cuba's parliament.

Castro is loved and admired by many in the world as a great revolutionary who stood up to the United States and pursued the ideal of an egalitarian society with free health care and universal education.

The charismatic Cuban leader has been a key figure in some of the world's most important events in the twentieth century.

Despite a U.S.-backed exile invasion at the Bay of Pigs, Washington's four and a half decades of economic embargo intended to topple the Castro government, and numerous assassination attempts, Castro outlasted 10 U.S. presidents, from Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush.

Castro claims he has survived at least 634 assassination attempts, a world record most politicians would not envy.

"If surviving assassination attempts was an Olympic event, I would win the gold medal," Castro once said.

According to the unit responsible for Castro's protection, most of the attempts were masterminded by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). They involved poison pills, a toxic cigar, exploding mollusks, and a chemically tainted diving suit. In one bizarre episode, it was planned to use powder to make his beard fall out so he would be less popular.

In 1962, Cuba came to the center of world focus when the United States discovered that Castro had agreed to allow the Soviet Union to position nuclear missiles on the island. The missile crisis brought the world to the brink of nuclear war, leading to a 13-day standoff between U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.

Castro also defied predictions that his country would not survive the collapse of its one-time supporter, the Soviet Union.

The disappearance of Soviet aid following the collapse of the Soviet Union plunged Cuba into severe economic crisis in the early 1990s.

To tide over the crisis, the government introduced tight rationing of energy, food and consumer goods, opened up Cuba to foreign investment and tourism and legalized the currency of U.S. dollars.

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